Massachusetts health officials this week released guidance about how to celebrate the upcoming holidays safely amid a spike in coronavirus cases in the state.
The guidelines come as Gov. Charlie Baker urges residents not to gather in groups or travel during the upcoming holidays, saying such activities could put additional strain on hospitals amid a surge of coronavirus cases.
The following activities are considered "lower risk," per the Department of Public Health website.
- Limit in-person holiday gatherings to only people you live with.
- Host a virtual holiday dinner with extended family or friends.
- Prepare foods for family and neighbors and deliver them in a no-contact way.
- Virtually attend your traditional holiday activities, such as a visit with Santa.
- Consider virtual caroling or reciting. Provide a link to your virtual caroling to the people you want to sing to.
- View holiday lights from your car with those you live with.
The following activities are considered "higher risk," per the DPH.
- Any time you gather with others outside of your household, you increase the risk of contracting or spreading illness. All residents are discouraged from gathering. Gatherings in Massachusetts are subject to gathering size limits.
- You are risking your health and others health if you host or participate in any in-person festivities if you or anyone in your household:
- has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and has not completed the isolation period;
- has symptoms of COVID-19;
- is waiting for COVID-19 viral test results;
- may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days; or
- is at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, such as older adults or those with certain medical conditions.
- If in-person caroling or reciting, stay more than 25 feet from the people you are reciting or singing for and wear a mask. Remain outdoors while caroling.
- If you visit Santa Claus in person, wear a mask, stay 6 feet from Santa and others while in line, and make a reservation for your visit where available.
- If viewing holiday lights outdoors, take a one-way walk with those you live with and maintain distance from others.
Health officials also added the following guidance, per the DPH.
- Always wear your mask and watch your distance. (Remove your mask only for eating and drinking.)
- For 10 days before and after holiday gatherings, monitor yourself closely for fever and other symptoms of COVID-19, minimize contact with other people, and leave home only for essential services like going to work, buying groceries, and appointments with doctors; OR,
- Obtain a negative result from a COVID-19 test, on a sample obtained within 72 hours of the celebration. Even with a negative test you must be vigilant about masking and distancing when you are around individuals you do not live with.
- Testing only indicates whether a person may have COVID-19 at the moment of the test. You can still become sick with COVID-19 after your test and before your celebration.
- Testing information can be found at www.mass.gov/GetTested
- Do not share food, drink, or any utensils, including serving utensils.
- Seat people with plenty of space (at least six feet) from one another while dining.
- Consider seating people at smaller tables in multiple rooms instead of around a large family table.
- Improve ventilation by opening windows and doors.
- If setting up outdoor seating under a tent, ensure guests are still seated with physical distancing in mind. Enclosed 4-wall tents will have less air circulation than open air tents and should be considered indoor spaces (check also fire codes for heating tents).
- If outdoor temperature or weather forces you to put down the tent sidewalls, consider leaving one or more sides open or rolling up the bottom 12 inches of each sidewall to enhance ventilation while still providing a wind break.
In a press conference Tuesday, Baker said coronavirus cases have been spiking since Thanksgiving, putting "significant strain" on the health care system, warned the situation could dampen optimism following the arrival this week of vaccine shipments to the state.
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"It's pretty simple," Baker said in a press conference. "The safest way to celebrate this year is with members of your own household and to postpone or cancel any travel plans and to avoid gatherings with people you don't live with. Any type of celebration beyond that has real potential, as we saw with Thanksgiving, to spread the virus and hurt the ones we love the most."
"I'm pretty sure I'm stating the obvious this year, but the holidays won't be the same as they've been before," he added. "We really can't have them be the the kind of consequential event that Thanksgiving has been in Massachusetts."
He pointed out that on Dec. 1, four days after Thanksgiving, the state was averaging about 2,400 new COVID-19 cases each day. A week later, about 10 days after Thanksgiving, the average number of daily new cases had nearly doubled to almost 4,800, Baker said.
Baker said coronavirus hospitalizations have increased by 93% over the past three weeks and the number of patients in intensive care units have increased by 73%. Since Thanksgiving, 689 people have died to COVID-19 in Massachusetts.
Baker urged people not to travel or gather with people outside their immediate households. Those who do attend gatherings should wear masks, open windows and practice hygiene and social distancing.